Purdue University and Indiana University have partnered with Ascend Indiana to help connect Hoosier graduates with jobs in-state to promote “brain gain.” File photo
Purdue University and Indiana University have partnered with Ascend Indiana to help connect Hoosier graduates with jobs in-state to promote “brain gain.” File photo
Boone County, and the county seat of Lebanon in particular, has been making headlines lately for multiple large-scale developments either being built or being proposed. Housing complexes, sporting centers and technology hubs may all be coming to Lebanon in the future. The populace is split on whether such development is good or bad for the city.

On one hand, Lebanon could become a sprawling city, ripe with high-wage jobs and opportunities; but on the other hand, it could grow apart from the small town feel that many treasure. The largest development that could be coming this way is a technology hub being pushed by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation that could change 4,000 to 7,000 acres of mostly farm land in the western part of the Boone County into a campus of new technology and innovation. If the project is built here, it could be one of the largest developments in the state.

In a previous story from The Lebanon Reporter, and in his state of the city address, Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry said Lebanon was chosen for this potential development because of its proximity to Indianapolis, the Indianapolis International Airport and a research university.

“When considering those factors, it is apparent why they have been working to acquire land near our community,” Gentry said in his state of the city address.

As more amenities come to Lebanon, like Hickory Junction Fieldhouse and Stone Eater Bike Park, it will in turn attract more businesses to Lebanon and boost the city as a whole, Gentry said.

Purdue University, which is just 40 miles northwest of Lebanon, and also happens to be Gentry’s alma mater, has been combating the geographic phenomenon known as “brain drain” for decades.

Former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels launched a “brain gain” initiative in an effort to keep Boilermakers in Indiana and draw alumni back to the state.

“A few years ago, Indiana reached the top tier in every ranking of good business climates, but the one category where we lag, as our governor points out at every opportunity, is in having sufficient human capital,” Daniels said in a 2018 press release.

Daniels said a brain gain pilot program brought more than 220 people interested in moving back to Indiana.

“Fifteen years ago, many of us adopted as our central goal, the reversal of the state’s brain drain,” Daniels said. “Since that time, Indiana’s population has begun outgrowing our neighbors, including a net in-migration of college graduates, but it’s not nearly enough. This initiative, if we do it right, will be the next great step in strengthening our Indiana community and economy.”

Brain drain is a term normally associated in the context of migration about whether the people who migrate out of an area tend to be on average, more educated, Professor of Economics at Wabash College Dr. Joyce Burnette explained.

According to research from the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, since the 1970s, Indiana has ranked in the top 20 of states that had more educated “leavers” than people who remained in the state.

For years, Purdue has been involved in research and development in the emerging technology space, so much, that the university recently built a Discovery Park District, which is a multi-use area that facilitates innovation and development across multiple regions.

Purdue Research Foundation Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Placemaking Greg Deason said the university has “put a lot of effort” into creating live, work and play areas, which is what Discovery Park District is.

Discovery Park District features research labs and other working facilities, along with housing and greenspace for people working at the companies housed in the park.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into creating environments where high-tech workers and hightech companies can thrive,” Deason said. “A lot of that has been attending to and getting creative people in the mix.”

Deason said Purdue has been bringing in people with “strong intellectual backgrounds” to Indiana for a long time. Bringing like-minded people together will help keep those people around, instead of them leaving for another tech-focused city like San Francisco or Portland, Oregon.

“If you look at the historical pattern of the research park and those that chose to be there, there’s a strong startup tradition of people that have created their own opportunities,” Deason said. “There’s also been more than a decade of large companies choosing to move here and make this their homes as well.”

In October 2021, Saab AB, a Swedish aerospace and defense company, opened its 100,000-square-foot production facility in West Lafayette. The company also invested into the Discovery Park District.

“Companies are finding [West Lafayette] a great place to be for a couple reasons,” Deason said. “It’s well documented that Indiana has a good business environment from a cost perspective and we’re very pro business. But when you think about what a company needs to do to succeed, they’ve got to be able to attract and retain world-class talent, with the university producing talent and bringing a draw for talent.”

If a company has roots in an area where it can draw from a large talent pool, it then promotes workers to stay.

“When you talk about areas and whether they’re a net exporter or importer of talent, if there area great jobs there, people are going to stay,” Deason said.

Indiana is less congested and has a lower cost of living than other states known for innovation, Deason said.

“The state of Indiana benefits from having a lot of productive people here and it has some additional benefits for people in the state,” Burnette said. The place where people of high intelligence gather can be anywhere, Burnette explained.

“So what local governments do is say, ‘I want to be the place where all the skilled people gather and then once I have enough of them, that in itself will attract other skilled people,’” she said.

Being proactive in creating a cluster of like-minded, skilled people will hopefully then bringing more and more, Burnette said.

She said the state looking to build this proposed technology hub isn’t surprising.

In January, Purdue announced its partnership with Indiana University to help keep Hoosiers in-state. Both universities partnered with Ascend Indiana, a talent and workforce initiative that connects students with career opportunities in Indiana.

Since it started in 2017, Ascend has connected more than 2,200 graduates with jobs and internships around Indiana, according to a press release.

“IU and Purdue both recognize the major opportunity we have to drive ‘brain gain’ in our state and build a healthy, innovative and internationally competitive economy,” said Bill Stephan, Indiana University’s vice president for government relations and economic engagement.

“We know that as many as 80% of graduates at our regional campuses around the state stay in their home regions after they complete their education. These alumni continue to make vital contributions to the economic growth and vitality of their communities. We are committed to bringing more talented graduates back to the state and to ensuring that we keep Indiana’s talent pipeline full of employees equipped with the skills that our state’s leading employers need and demand.”

© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.